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Exploring the Everlasting Charm of Chicken Salad

Updated: May 4

During summer in the South, there are a few things that you can always count on, as if handed down from on high. One is the inevitable experience of almost swallowing at least two love bugs each season, and the other is mayonnaise suddenly becoming the unofficial fifth food group through its usage in various cold ‘salads.’ Among all these salads, chicken salad reigns as the undisputed king of the cold summer salad game, closely followed by tuna fish salad. Whether it’s a family reunion, a church picnic, or a ladies’ lunch, and even moms trying to stretch their food budget during the summer break, you can bet that chicken salad will grace the menus of countless homes and restaurants throughout the South, except for fast-food establishments.

What may come as a surprise is that the recipe for chicken salad is older than most would think. In my own family, we always believed that chicken salad emerged as a way to make food stretch during the Depression. While the recipe’s simplicity and versatility certainly contribute to its widespread popularity in the South today, chicken salad actually dates back to the mid-19th century. The earliest known printed recipe for chicken salad can be found in ‘The Lady’s Receipt-Book’ written by Eliza Leslie and published in 1847. It’s safe to assume that chicken salad had been making its rounds for at least 5-10 years before ever being documented.

One of the great things about chicken salad is its super easy to make and tailor it to your personal taste. Leftover rotisserie chicken from dinner? Poached chicken leftover from sandwiches? Use them both! Like things sweet and spicy? Add a touch of curry powder along with green grapes and diced red apple for a ‘coronation chicken’ vibe. Dried fruit and nuts leftover from lunch? Chop them up and toss them in! The possibilities are truly endless!

The recipe below is my go-to basic chicken salad recipe that will work perfectly as a springboard to a truly wonderful summer dish!

Basic Chicken Salad

Serves: 4

Prep Time: 20 Minutes

Cooking Time: 10 Minutes


  1. 3 cups chicken, chilled and diced to your desired size (You can do this using your food processor's pulse feature.)

  2. 3/4 cup red or white onion, diced

  3. 3/4 cup celery, diced (The top leaves and lighter-colored center work lovely in this.)

  4. 3/4 cup dill pickle relish (Sweet relish will work if you prefer.)

  5. 1 cup mayonnaise (vegan, low-fat yogurt, and/or olive oil mayonnaise all work perfectly fine.)

  6. Salt and black pepper to taste (Salt level will depend on how you seasoned your chicken when initially cooking.)


  1. To prepare the dish, start by placing all the ingredients, except for the mayonnaise, in a large bowl. Thoroughly mix the ingredients, ensuring the spoon reaches the bottom of the bowl and lifts everything up. Additionally, turning the bowl a few times will aid in combining the ingredients effectively.

  2. Next, add half of the mayonnaise to the mixture of chicken and vegetables, and thoroughly blend until everything is well-coated. Gradually incorporate the remaining mayonnaise in small increments, adjusting the amount to achieve the desired level of creaminess. This step ensures that all the components are evenly dressed, eliminating any potential pockets of undressed vegetables or chicken.

Notes: Please keep in mind that in certain regions, sweet pickles are sometimes substituted for dill pickles in this recipe. If you opt for sweet pickles, feel free to include 1/2 tablespoon to 1 tablespoon of mustard to impart the tangy flavor that dill pickles would provide. Additionally, it is common to incorporate slivered almonds and dried cranberries into this variation of chicken salad. For a delightful serving suggestion, pair it with Swiss cheese, mustard, and Romaine lettuce on whole wheat bread.

Did You Make This Recipe?

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